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“I am prepared to die”

In the last magazine, you read about Nelson Mandela’s childhood, hisdays as a student, and how he joined and helped change the African National Congress. Now, as part of our tribute to a great and deeply loved leader, we give you the second half of the story………

The Defiance Campaign began on 26 June 1952. That night, after a meeting in Johannesburg, Mandela was arrested because he did not have a special night pass. This was Mandela’s first taste of jail.

Before long, Mandela was out of jail, and back working for the Defiance Campaign. In October Mandela, Sisulu and other leaders were charged with “communism” for their work in the Campaign. They were sentenced to nine months, suspended for two years.

The Defiance Campaign changed Mandela’s way of thinking. White people had joined the Campaign — and Mandela now began to believe that white people had a place in the struggle. It is a belief he holds to this day.

In December 1952 Mandela became Vice President of the ANC, with Chief Albert Luthuli as the President. Mandela, Luthuli and many other leaders were immediately given banning orders. Mandela could not go to any political meetings — and he could not leave Johannesburg.


While Mandela was banned, he got together with Oliver Tambo, who was now also a lawyer. They opened a lawyers’ office at Chancellor House in Fox Street. It was the first black lawyers’ office in Johannesburg.

The new lawyers’ office soon had many customers. People came from near and far, with all kinds of problems — but mainly problems with the apartheid laws.

Mandela was a busy lawyer — but when his banning order was lifted in 1955, he was also, once again, busy with politics. He travelled all over the country, telling people about the ANC and the struggle in South Africa.

There was a lot happening at that time. The ANC led bus boycotts in Evaton and Alexandra. There were school boycotts to protest against “Bantu Education.” And on 26 June 1955, at the Congress of the People at Kliptown near Johannesburg, the Freedom Charter was born.

On 5 December 1956, 156 leaders from the ANC and other organisations were arrested and charged with treason. Mandela was one of those charged in South Africa’s biggest treason trial. The trial was to last nearly five years.

Soon after the trial started, Mandela, who was out on bail, was buying food in a shop in Johannesburg. Just then Oliver Tambo and his wife Adelaide drove up. With them was a pretty young woman from Tambo’s home village in Bizana. Her name was Winnie Nomzano Madikizela.

In June 1958 Nelson and Winnie were married at Winnie’s home in the Transkei. At the wedding Winnie’s father, Columbus Madikizela, warned his young daughter that she was not marrying an ordinary man. She was getting married to the struggle.


On 21 March 1961, 67 people were shot dead by the police in Sharpeville. The government immediately put South Africa under a State of Emergency. Thousands of people were detained — and the ANC and PAC were banned. The Treason Trial ended soon afterwards and Mandela now made a very big decision — a decision that would change his whole life. He decided to work underground.

Mandela surprised everybody by turning up at a big meeting in Pietermaritzburg on March 25. The meeting was called the All-in Africa Conference. It was called because the white government had decided to break away from Britain — and to make South Africa a Republic on 31 May 1961.

The Conference was called to decide on protest action. It decided that Mandela should call for a three day stayaway if the government did not change its mind.

The government did not change its mind — and Mandela travelled around the country with Sisulu, telling people about the stayaway. The police were now looking high and low for Mandela — but they could not find him. Mandela, who used all kinds of disguises, was given a new name by the newspapers. They called him the Black Pimpernel.

The stayaway started on 29 May 1961 — but Mandela called it off on the second day. Mandela believed the stayaway was a success — but called it off because of the heavy force the government was using.

The stayaway made Mandela change his mind about the direction of the struggle. He believed that peaceful action — like boycotts and stayaways — had not worked. The government had not changed its ways.

Mandela and his friends in the ANC decided that it was time for armed struggle. They formed “Umkhonto We Sizwe” — the military wing of the ANC. Mandela was chosen as the Commander in Chief.

In January 1962 Mandela secretly left the country. He was away for six months and visited 15 countries. In Algeria he trained as a soldier. He also went to England where he met members of the English parliament. Mandela returned to South Africa in July. Two months later, on his way home to Johannesburg after visiting Chief Luthuli, he was arrested. After 17 months of working underground, it was the end of the road for the Black Pimpernel.


Mandela was sentenced to five years hard labour for “incitement” and for leaving the country without a passport. The police were happy to have Mandela in prison — but they also wanted his comrades.

On 12 June, after getting a tip-off, the police raided a farm called Liliesleaf in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia.

There they found Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and other ANC leaders. They also found a lot of secret documents. Mandela, who had already served two years of his five year sentence, was taken to Pretoria to stand trial with the others.

They were charged with 192 acts of sabotage, trying to overthrow the government by revolution, and helping a “foreign army” to attack South Africa.

Mandela was accused no 1 and the first to plead at the beginning of the trial. He stood up and said: “My lord, it is not I but the government that should be in the dock today. I plead not guilty.”

The trial lasted 86 days. On 12 June 1964 it took the judge only two minutes to pass sentence. He sentenced Mandela and his comrades to life in prison. The judge found all but two of the accused guilty. Those found guilty were: Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Elias Motsoaledi, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba and Andrew Mlangeni.

In court Mandela made his famous speech. He told the court and the world about the suffering of his people. He did what he had to do. The government left him with no choice, he said.

After speaking for many hours Mandela ended with the words: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against White domination and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”


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